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54 54 3 wheedled, bullied, or cajoled: banking on eva le gallienne Robert A. Schanke It must be remembered that in 1926 there was no cultural explosion. There were no foundations, great or small, set up to help the arts. . . . Before the Great Depression, rich people were immensely rich and could do what they liked with their money—even keep it. No high taxes limited their fortunes. . . . One had to wheedle, bully, or cajole—and I did all three shamelessly. [I had] no qualms about asking rich people for their money.1 Such was Eva Le Gallienne’s humble confession of how she struggled in 1926 to find patrons to fund her Civic Repertory Theatre: namely, Alice De Lamar, Otto Kahn, and Mary Bok. A few years earlier, in 1920, she had opened on Broadway to rave reviews for her performance in Arthur Richman’s comedy Not So Long Ago. Soon after, she stunned the critics once again with her poetic and sensitive acting in Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom. When she starred in Molnár’s The Swan in 1923, she was hailed as one of the major artists of the American theater. Still, regardless of all the great accolades, Le Gallienne became restless when the long run of The Swan 55 wheedled, bullied, or cajoled ended. She simply yearned for a theater without stars, without long runs, without high ticket prices, and without typecasting. Also troubling her were the shortcomings she saw in her future career on Broadway. Critics had begun to mention her inability to play feminine passion. As one reporter described it, she “seldom rings true in scenes where she is called upon to reciprocate masculine ardor. The soft, feminine note is missing.”2 Questions whirled in her mind: Were the critics using her sexuality against her? Were they offended by her lesbianism? Was she going to be blackballed by the male-dominated Broadway establishment that considered her lesbianism a threat to its masculine superiority? Maybe she needed to stop bowing to the patriarchal Broadway system, she thought, and instead strike out on her own. If she was refused entry into their club, why not start her own? But how to finance it? Since 1921, when Le Gallienne had embarked on a romantic relationship with Mercedes de Acosta, an aspiring playwright, the two women had often talked of producing de Acosta’s script about Joan of Arc, with Le Gallienne starring as Joan. The plan was to premiere the play in Paris, followed by productions in London and New York. Their ultimate goal was then to open their own theater in New York, which they would name after the great actress Eleonora Duse. The owner of a theater in Paris was interested in the play, but with one condition: the women must find American backers. Mrs. Harold McCormick (Edith Rockefeller), of Chicago, initially expressed interest, but in November 1924, when she met de Acosta and Le Gallienne and learned that the two women were lovers, she quickly withdrew her support. At virtually the last hour, de Acosta suggested that they approach Alice De Lamar, a lesbian millionaire whom she had met a few years earlier. Le Gallienne agreed. If they could persuade Alice to love the project, Le Gallienne wrote, everything would work out beautifully.3 Alice De Lamar When her father died in 1918 and left her $10 million (close to $200 million today), Alice De Lamar became one of the wealthiest young women in the country. In 1878, her father, known as the Captain, conceived the idea that ultimately created his fortune. When the silver fever broke out in Leadville, Colorado, he visited several mines and eventually purchased and mined his own claim. Later, he discovered and mined a vein of rich gold and silver 56 robert a. schanke in Idaho as well as a nickel mine in Nevada. In fact, mining towns in both Nevada and Idaho are named after him. He served as a senator in the Idaho state legislature. In 1891, he sold half of his interest in his Idaho mines for $2 million and subsequently moved to New York City. Soon after that, the Captain married Nellie Virginia Sands. They lived most of the time in Paris, and on April 23, 1895, their daughter, Alice Antoinette, was born. After her parents’ divorce three years later, Alice returned to New York and lived with her father. Undoubtedly to show the city’s upper-crust elite that he had “arrived,” in 1902...


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